Copyright Laws and the Public Domain
When the copyright on a piece of work ends, that work enters the public domain. Once in the public domain, the original author, creator or group that produced the work no longer hold intellectual property rights to any part of the work.
Copyright lawyers are often the ones who keep up with and maintain the copyrights of large or extremely successful works that are old enough to have the possibility of passing into to the public domain. The laws that govern what and when a work’s copyright is no longer valid have changed so frequently over the past century that it can be extremely confusing to anyone who is not a professional on the subject. Trademarks can also enter the public domain, but in a different way. There are less regulations about when a trademark enters the public domain, but in most cases it is because of disuse by the owner. When a trademark has not been used in so long that it has become unidentifiable, it is no longer considered a trademark.
Of course, any work that is published without a copyright in the US is already a part of the public domain by default. Any works published prior to 1923 are in the public domain as of January 1, 2012, works published after that year are subject to many different legislative acts to redefine the public domain. The most recent ruling was that a work became a part of the public domain 70 years after the author’s death if the copyright was not renewed. The renewal of copyrights is the only way to keep a work out of the public domain. Long after the author’s death, a committee, company or descendants can continue to renew copyrights and gain profit from the sale of the original work. Having a good copyright lawyer to keep up with this is important, since once a work enters the public domain it is no longer available to private ownership. Meaning it can never be bought back.
There are a few, rare examples of “perpetual copyright”. The term refers to copyrights that will never run out as well as copyrights that have been given permission to use special clauses that maintain the copyright indefinitely, as long as certain terms as upheld. A common example of this is the copyright is the case of J.M. Barrie’s classic tale, Peter Pan. The play was granted a special perpetual copyright that stipulates the money paid for every performance will go to the Great Ormond Street Hospital as long as it is in existence.
It is tips and tricks like these that make public domain and copyright laws complex and treacherous. Making it all the more important to have a professional keep tabs on lucrative copyrights.
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